Yesterday’s post by John Wells concerned the IPA version of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Michael Everson. This reminded me of a mammoth transcription I was invited to undertake.
In 1989 (or maybe 1988) the head of the Dept. of Phonetics & Linguistics at UCL, Professor Gimson, was approached by the British publisher Richard Usborne with a request for a phonetic transcription of a complete story by P. G. Wodehouse (ˈwʊdhaʊs). Usborne had been approached by a rich American Wodehouse fan, who had plans to publish the same Wodehouse story, The Great Sermon Handicap, in many different languages. Gim did not want to do it himself, so very kindly offered it to me with the instruction to charge them a lot of money for it. I accepted and it was fun, but the task also had its problems.
For a start word-processors capable of handling phonetic symbols were unheard of, maybe even undreamed of, at the time. The equipment I used to type the transcription was a wonderful affair, known fondly as The Mighty Wurlitzer. It consisted of two separate typewriter (“What’s a typewriter, Daddy?”) keyboards bolted together. All of the normal alphabetic keys were on one keyboard and on the other there was a large selection of IPA symbols . There was a clever mechanism for releasing the carriage from one keyboard, so that it could be shifted across to the other, and then locked into place. It did not, however, make for rapid typing. I wonder if the machine is still around somewhere. I would love to have a picture of it.
I think the whole transcription took me about a month to do, but I could only work on it for short periods, during the lunch hour, and in the evenings, or occasionally during office hours when the machine was not needed for other work. The story is not one of Wodehouse’s best, I think, but I tried to make the transcription interesting to students of English by giving the different characters different styles of pronunciation. So Bertie Wooster and his chums were allowed frequent elisions, assimilations and the like. Jeeves, the butler, was a little more conservative in his speech, and a couple of ancient and decrepit clergymen were made to speak in appropriately ancient and decrepit R.P.
When I had finished it, I sent the manuscript to Usborne, who was looking after the printing of the book. A few weeks later I got a message from him saying that he had had a message from the printers, who were in Holland, if I remember rightly. The printers were completely foxed by my manuscript and seemed to believe it was in Icelandic. There was not much I could do about that other than tell them it certainly was not. After some months I got the proofs, which were crammed with errors. I tried my best to correct all these and eventually the volume was published. You can see the cover in the picture. I am afraid that quite a few of my corrections did not make it into the final version. The book contained, in addition to my effort, versions in French, Latin, Castilian Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Romanian, Catalan and Rhaetoromansch, as well as the story in ordinary English orthography.
The system of phonemic transcription I used was that which was the preferred one in the department at the time. It did not use length marks. The MOUTH diphthong was symbolised ɑʊ, while the PRICE diphthong was aɪ.
Here for your delectation is just a short sample:
Update:Thinking about it again, I have come to the conclusion that it must have been a bit earlier in the 80s when I did the transcription. The publication date is 1989, though.